Let’s make 2015 the year of action/2015
Justin Forsyth, former Save the Children CEO, looks back to 2005’s Make Poverty History campaign and G8 Summit in the UK and considers the lessons we could learn from it this year.
The first rule of show business is never work with children or animals. The first rule of global G8 negotiations should be avoid naked flames.
It was 2005 and the Make Poverty History campaign was everywhere. Britain was the host of that year’s Gleneagles G8 summit of world leaders and Tony Blair had put Africa at the top of his agenda.
Now the Prime Minister had Bono, Bob Geldof, Richard Curtis and an unprecedented coalition of charities breathing down his neck. 20 years after Live Aid, Live 8 was about to host concerts in nine cities around the world, with a potential audience of 3 billion people.
The PM and Chancellor Gordon Brown both had high hopes for what could be achieved, but on this particular day Michael Jay, Blair’s sherpa – or, in layman’s terms, chief negotiator – had been trapped for hours with his international counterparts, and felt he was getting nowhere.
A fiery speech
Over dinner, Michael, the head of the Foreign Office and normally the epitome of British diplomatic cool, lost it.
He disrupted the dinner with a rabble-rousing speech in which he banged the table and told everyone to think what they’d tell their grandchildren if they failed. It was a scene from Richard Curtis’s film, The Girl in the Cafe being played out in real life.
It was all very moving, until he theatrically brandished the draft communiqué at the other sherpas and caught it on one of the candles – and it went up in flames. At which point another sherpa piped up that it was a pity the climate text hadn’t caught fire too.
One fire extinguisher and three rounds of negotiations later, Britain got a dramatic deal.
Pride in what we’ve achieved
The Gleneagles G8 summit – ten years ago today – made history. World leaders agreed to double aid to Africa, cancel the debts of the poorest countries and secure universal access to AIDS treatment.
Not every G8 country has stuck to those commitments but we can be incredibly proud that David Cameron and George Osborne have got Britain to the 0.7% aid target and Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening is driving forward this agenda.
Earlier this year, a law came into effect – with cross-party support – that will ensure we stick to this target for good.
Even if other countries haven’t done all that they have pledged, enough has changed in the last ten years for us to celebrate some staggering progress.
Since 2005 millions of children have survived who would otherwise have died from malaria or diarrhoea. Millions more children have gone to school and the number of people in developing countries on anti AIDS drugs has leapt from around a million then to over 11 million now.
If you supported Make Poverty History then these achievements belong to you.
Looking back at Make Poverty History and Gleneagles now, I am struck by how much has changed.
Back then there was no Facebook to mobilise people, no ‘BRIC’ group of economies to challenge the G8 and we still had Nelson Mandela with us to inspire a huge crowd in Trafalgar Square with his call to be ‘a great generation’.
On a personal level a lot has changed too. In 2005 I was working for Tony Blair, having been brought in from Oxfam to help steer the negotiations. Since then I’ve crossed over again, to head up Save the Children.
All my experiences on both sides of the table tell me one thing: politicians and the public need each other.
Politicians have the power to take the right decisions, and we have the power to make sure they do. Political will and popular mobilisation feed off each other, and make things possible that we couldn’t get with just one side of the equation.
Let’s make history again
That is why, ten years on, we have to mobilise again. The progress made in 2005 gives us the platform to go even further and be the generation to end poverty, eliminate preventable child deaths and stop climate change on its tracks.
If 2005 was the year of Make Poverty History, we want 2015 to be the year of action/2015.
The action/2015 coalition brings together over 1800 organisations to demand a plan to reduce inequality, eliminate poverty and defeat climate change.
The coalition stretches from grassroots social movements in the global South to international NGOs like Save the Children.
We are mobilising now because later this year the UN is hosting two global summits – one on global poverty and one on climate change – which will set the ‘to do list’ of world leaders for decades to come.
These two summits could literally save the planet and the people on it.
2015 can’t be a straight repeat of 2005, and nobody should try to make it one.
But we would be making a huge mistake if we assumed that an unprecedented outpouring of public concern about global poverty, and an unprecedented political effort to do something about it, has nothing to teach us now.
For me the biggest lesson of Gleneagles is about what can be achieved when we stop thinking of the division as between ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’, ‘politician’ and ‘citizen’, but between those who think the world can’t change and between those who think it can, and must.
This post was first published on The Guardian